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A low level of genetic variation in mammalian populations where the census population size is relatively large has been attributed to various factors, such as a naturally small effective population size, historical bottlenecks and social behaviour. The killer whale (Orcinus orca) is an abundant, highly social species with reduced genetic variation. We find no consistent geographical pattern of global diversity and no mtDNA variation within some regional populations. The regional lack of variation is likely to be due to the strict matrilineal expansion of local populations. The worldwide pattern and paucity of diversity may indicate a historical bottleneck as an additional factor.